Dear Mr. Summers:
In its meeting of 21 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept submission for alterations and additions to the complex of buildings along D Street, SW, between 3rd and 4th Streets, for the Museum of the Bible (case number SL 14-001). The Commission expressed support for the goal of bringing this important museum collection to Washington, D.C., and for the general configuration of the proposal, noting several concerns with the presented design as it is further developed in the concept phase.
The Commission members emphasized that a museum collection of such great cultural significance will likely be a sought-after destination for the visiting public; however, they commented that the proposal appears to be a grouping of several unrelated designs which does not achieve an overall coherence for this institution. Instead, they suggested a more restrained architectural language—rather than the proposal's reliance on communicating through superficial visual symbols and gestures—to create a building of enduring solemnity commensurate with the importance of the artifacts within.
In support of a dignified composition for the project as a whole, the Commission members questioned in particular the proposed architectural character of the central section of the complex, which would serve only as an infill volume; they commented that its D Street facade is too exuberant, detracting from the overall design of the block, and may be confused as the building's main entrance. They supported the addition of an expressive form on top of the museum, which could serve as a single strong gesture above the lower mass; they recommended further study of the proposed rooftop forms so that they do not appear dated and out of character with the dignity of the collection.
For the treatment of the building entry at the west end of the historic warehouse, the Commission members recommended careful consideration of the entrance experience in public space and within the museum itself. While they acknowledged that the strong presence of the existing architectural features at the west end—formerly an elevated train entrance to the warehouse—could justify placing the entrance at 4th Street as proposed, they questioned the design of the ramp and landing along 4th Street to reach the entrance, commenting that it is visually inadequate for such a major institution. They supported the effort to accommodate queuing along the D Street facade near 4th Street under the reconstructed historic loading dock roof, but they suggested providing a more dignified, honorific entrance sequence, whether from the north or west side of the building. They cautioned against the removal of existing majestic and healthy street trees, suggesting that a deliberate design for the entrance will announce itself appropriately without the necessity of forcing visibility at the expense of mature tree canopy.
The Commission looks forward to review of a revised design. Please coordinate the submission of the next presentation with the staff, which is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Cary Summers, Chief Operating Officer
Passages, the Museum of the Bible
7707 SW 44th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73179
cc: David Greenbaum, SmithGroup JJR
Doug Hays, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects